Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Darkening Horizons

ACCOMPANYING the new boom in coal there occurred a lesser but equally significant boom in lumbering. Most of the huge sawmills which had crept deep into the plateau prior to the Great Depression had suspended operations during the hard times. A few large firms had worked on at a reduced tempo but between 1930 and 1940 the forests were generally left to the small "woodpecker" operations of neighborhood sawmills.

The war brought a tremendous demand for lumber and the long quiescent lumber corporations aroused themselves again. Despite the mammoth logging operations of the three decades preceding the "Hoover Depression," the timber companies still held thousands of acres of high quality timber, some of it still untouched by ax or saw. Perhaps the largest of these was Mineral Development Company which owned broad areas in a half-dozen counties. W. M. Ritter Lumber Company was a logging giant whose stack yards covered river bottoms near the mouth of Leatherwood Creek in Perry County. Fordson Coal Company owned more than half of Leslie County and huge tracts in surrounding counties. Though most of this "company land" had lost its great poplars to the splash dams and spring tides many years before, other thousands of acres had escaped practically untouched. On these huge boundaries tremendous oaks, walnuts, beeches, hemlocks and poplars abounded along the still crystalline streams.

The state had declined to set aside even a few acres of this magnificent forest heritage for the benefit of future generations. A few

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